I found out about ZOMBIELAND a few weeks ago when I saw the poster for it while at the movie theater, and my first thought was: "Wow. That's a great cast." But bad movies have had great casts in the past, so I wasn't filled with confidence yet, and the trailer certainly didn't help: it made the film look lame, unfunny and unoriginal. What a misleading trailer it is. You can say what you want about movie critics, but this is a case in which at least I was swayed to watching the film solely because it scored a surprisingly high tomatometer, and I'm delighted to see how accurate it is. ZOMBIELAND is one heck of a fun ride: it features several moments of comedic brilliance and some thoroughly exciting action sequences.
The fact that this film was going to be far better than most of the usually bland and uninspired entries to the genre becomes quite clear once we hear a voiceover from our protagonist, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), one of the few humans who survived a plague that has turned everyone else into zombies: "I may seem like an unlikely survivor with all my phobias and irritable bowel syndrome." That's just the beginning of a set of absolutely hilarious lines that we get to hear as Columbus goes on an unorthodox road trip of sorts with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), who is in the "ass-kicking" business, as we find out immediately upon meeting him. The two of them later meet Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), two sisters who are far from being as innocent as they seem and have been con artists ever since before the plague even started.
While the laughs here are constant, there are two moments that need to be singled out (and I'm just going to make reference to them, rather than spoil them). The first is a short scene featuring the "kill of the week," which is a perfect example of why horror and blood and guts and all that good stuff works so well in the realm of comedy, as these filmmakers are clearly aware. The second involves a cameo that you may have already found out about since people are talking about it on message boards, and as great as it is, the best part about it is the punchline, which has to do with the movie GARFIELD.
Now, if that were that, I'd gladly give the film a 60%, and commend it for its success in the humor department despite its failure to do anything else, which is what happens with most films of the "zombie-horror-comedy" subgenre. But there's more here. Even though the film seems like it'll focus mainly on the four characters' struggle to survive zombie attacks and that it'll mostly feature action sequences, that's far from the case. This is actually a road trip movie, with plenty of subtle, interesting moments that give space for character development - yeah, that's exactly what I said. Who would've thought you'd find that in a movie like this? Most filmmakers who handle this sort of material would think of that as unnecessary: "Pfft, the audience just wants to see blood splattering everywhere; forget everything else." Thank God that that's not the case with ZOMBIELAND, and it's even more impressive that this film finds room in its brief 80-minute running time to get us to care about its protagonists. It helps that there are a few flashbacks in which we get to see what each of these people's lives were like before the plague struck, but there are plenty of instances in which director Ruben Fleischer allows his characters to interact with one another in a far more honest way than we're used to seeing in this sort of film. Massive kudos for that. There are two especially noteworthy instances of this: the first takes place while our characters are playing a board game and they talk about the best things and worst things that, in their minds, have come out of Zombieland. The second takes place during a scene in which Columbus and Wichita reminisce about the year 1997; it was hard not to get nostalgic about something as specific as "I saw my first R-rated movie: Anaconda," which brought back some memories of my pre-teenage years.
It's kind of interesting to note that, not only has Jesse Eisenberg starred this year in two films with titles ending in "land," but that both films are about a thousand times better than they ought to be. ADVENTURELAND's trailer made it look like a lifeless comedy, when in fact it was a delightfully honest drama, while ZOMBIELAND's trailer made it look like an uninspired horror movie, when in fact it's a hilarious riot of a comedy. Eisenberg often plays very similar characters in his films, which is something that some people may criticize, but I've already said what my thoughts on that are: I don't have a problem if an actor plays the same character in all his/her movies, as long as he/she does a GOOD job at it (which is why I think someone like Cameron Diaz DOES deserve to be criticized for this). I'm also partial to Eisenberg because his character in THE SQUID AND THE WHALE is my all-time favorite movie character, but all bias aside, he handles himself predictably well in ZOMBIELAND. He's aided by the company of Woody Harrelson's uproarious performance as the badass Tallahassee - so many comedic actors try this sort of thing and fail by going over-the-top or just not doing enough for it. Harrelson is perfect for this role. Emma Stone brings a similarly understated persona here as she gave us in SUPERBAD; I'd like to see her do more because I haven't detected even the slightest bit of falsity in either of the two performances I've seen her give. Abigail Breslin has less to do here than the other three actors, and she also has less to do than in other movies she's starred in (despite her age), but her presence is very much welcome, and she gets to deliver some delightfully blunt lines.
Despite having such great material to offer both in its very funny dialogue and in its exciting action sequences, ZOMBIELAND curiously focuses a bit more than it should on a plot line involving Tallahassee's obsession with Twinkies, which have become scarce ever since the plague. The joke is a bit overdone, especially when it takes on an unnecessary amount of importance during the film's final scenes. The other problem to be had with the film takes place during a predictably contrived moment in which a character shows up at the precise moment to interrupt a kiss: we've seen it happen in plenty of other movies, and it's certainly not a major flaw, but it sticks out in a movie in which almost everything else is sheer brilliance.
This was Fleischer's directorial debut, and not only do I want him to continue making stuff like this, but I think I'd also like him to try his hand at something more serious. Plenty of the more subdued moments in ZOMBIELAND are especially telling that there's some talent here in terms of the dramatic department. When I saw (and was disappointed) by the film's lame trailer, I would've never expected I would say this, but we need more movies like ZOMBIELAND. This film capitalizes on the fact that, for whatever odd reason, horror and zombies and blood-splattering can actually be FUNNY (if it's done well), but it's also not afraid to throw in character development and some intelligently perceptive dialogue, and for that, it's an above-average cinematic entry to an ostensibly disposable sub-genre.